BOISE – Despite mostly negative public comment, Idaho’s state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve a new rule requiring every Idaho student to take two online classes to graduate from high school.
The rule, a centerpiece of state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform plan, takes effect with this year’s eighth-graders, the high school class of 2016.
Parents, teachers and others opposed to the reform plan have qualified a referendum for the November 2012 ballot that could overturn it in its entirety. The plan also includes removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student and teacher, and shifting money from teacher pay to technology purchases and merit-pay bonuses.
In the meantime, the state is proceeding with the reform plans. “The board is firmly behind online learning,” said Richard Westerberg, state board president. “We believe it’s imperative moving forward that our students be able to have skills in that area.”
Idaho will become the first state to require two online classes to graduate from high school. Only Alabama, Florida and Michigan require online learning at all.
The state board held seven public hearings last summer on the proposed rule; 46 people testified, with all but eight opposing the new requirement, and 30 submitted written comments, all opposed. In the final public comment period that ran for three weeks before Thursday’s vote, 10 more written comments were received, all negative.
The Idaho Education Association, Idaho’s teachers union, blasted the state board’s vote Thursday. “Idahoans will have the last word on this mandate at the ballot box in November 2012 by overturning the law requiring online credits and one-size-fits-all mobile computing devices,” the IEA said in a statement.
Board of Education member Don Soltman, of Kootenai County, said, “Those folks who said we did this despite overwhelming public opposition need to understand that the majority of people who commented opposed the law itself. The law is passed. We are bound to comply with the law. The input we received on the actual proposed number of classes themselves was very constructive.”